Do or don’t: wearing distinctive designers at a conservative office

A few months ago, I received this message from a reader:

“I would greatly appreciate your advice on whether you think it is appropriate to wear designer pieces to a conservative corporate office. I, too, love and own a few Chanels and Loubs, but I am a little hesitant to wear them to my office because they are so readily identifiable. My office consists of mostly women, and I would hate to be the target of any catty remarks.” – MCL

This is a question that I’ve thought about many times myself. As much as I enjoy wearing certain designer pieces, the last thing I want to do is appear inappropriate or showy at work. Although I have photographed Chanel bags with work outfits on here, the truth is I do not tote them to the office (and admitted so here). At my current job, I keep mainly Ann Taylor pumps at my desk, but do sport the occasional Louboutins with other nondescript pieces.
designer_at_the_office copy

Images from these posts: left / right

The answer to MCL’s question is subjective and dependent on your own office environment, as well as where you are in your career. But here are some factors that I’ve considered over the years:

1. How “showy” are the designer items and how do they fit with your overall look?
In my opinion, recognizable all-over logo print, large logos, and Louboutin heels with their bright red soles are showier because onlookers can’t miss that it’s an expensive item. The higher the associated price range (as with Chanel), the more ostentatious the item can be in the wrong setting. In a truly conservative business environment, I would avoid the aforementioned things unless you’re at the top of the corporate ladder.

How you integrate designer items with your daily look also matters. I feel that if you consistently look put-together and tastefully-dressed, then designer items that complement that image will draw less attention than if the items themselves are the “centerpieces” of your outfits.

2. Is your office hierarchy flat or structured? What are your superiors’ attitudes toward designer items?
In a structured office hierarchy, I would suggest being very careful to avoid looking like you’re trying to upstage any superiors. This is especially important to consider with women, who may be more sensitive to such things. If your organizational structure is flatter and the atmosphere is more casual, I would feel out the environment by gauging clues on what is appropriate. For example:

– Do your superiors enjoy wearing designer items, or do they balk at the price tags as being wasteful?
– Do you and your superiors chat congenially about latest purchases or where to shop?

Working in client service, I view the client like a superior and exercise an even higher level of care/caution. I avoid showing up at a client donning any readily-identifiable high-end items, without first understanding their business environment or their personality. Needless to say, this is even more important at client meetings where sales or fee negotiations are taking place.

3. How much do other people’s perceptions matter to you?
I often smile remembering an intern who showed up on his first day with an $8k watch and received a healthy dose of teasing. This reader’s question mentioned catty remarks…if you care about such things, then it is safer to dress within your level. Most people in peer roles (and of course, superiors) will know the going salary rates and could be quick to form judgments if someone dresses conspicuously above others at the same level. They could speculate that someone is drowning in credit card debt or has a sugar daddy/parent, which could be far from the truth. The perceived boundaries of your level, however, could vary greatly based on office culture – in a fashion-conscious, urban workplace, wearing Louboutins could be common for junior-level employees…whereas it could easily garner gossip and raised eyebrows elsewhere.

In the end, there will always be people who wear whatever they want with confidence because they don’t care about what others think. And those who’ve made it to the top have the luxury of doing so. For those who are not there yet, even small wardrobe choices can play a real role in workplace perceptions and possibly distract from one’s professional performance.

Readers – What are your thoughts on and experiences with this topic? Do you wear “readily-identifiable” designers to work?
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  1. KS wrote:

    I would usually wear designer bag to work if the logo is discrete…meaning there's no logo in front or back of the bag. I always try to wear classic shoes to work as not to show people off. As long as the tag is hidden that's all it matters for me

    Posted 11.29.12 Reply
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    Honestly I never thought about this. I have a Coach bag that is basically my go-to handbag and I use it for almost everything. After reading this article I think I should go out and buy a no name brand bag so I won't "stand out" as much .

    Posted 10.1.12 Reply
  3. I guess Asians do look younger than most Westerners, more baby faced. My coworkers in Houston always thought I just graduated from high school instead of college! Haha!
    Now that I'm back in Asia, it's the other around, I do work to look my age or younger, especially since my husband is two years younger than me and he's so darn proud when people think I'm five years younger than him!

    Visit me:
    LeeAnne, Style N Season

    Posted 9.15.12 Reply
  4. Oops, I mean, where it's NOT just fashion pics.

    Visit me:
    LeeAnne, Style N Season

    Posted 9.15.12 Reply
  5. Very true! But to tell you the truth, not many people in my office know about designer brands. I'm sure you know that here in Asia, many many people carry fakes without even knowing they're fakes, they're just so norm here. I have several branded purses, but very rarely carry them for work, prefering to tote them to a 'safer' place like high end malls. Not because I'm afraid what people would say, but I'm afraid where I'll end up going to lunch. If I go woth my boss and his other general managers (who happen to be all male), I'd be safe. But if I go with my girls and subordinate, I might end up eating at a place with no AC and not-so-clean chairs where I don't want to put my Hermes. I mean, I'm not so rich yet I can just throw away a ruined expensive bag and buy a new one!

    I even notice that my director refuse to drive any of his sports cars to the office for the same reason, he just go for somehting conservative like a Mercedez. I guess it's the same rule for me. On the flip side, one time I met a vendor's owner, a lady in her 40s carrying a real Hermes, she just took one look at my LV-inspired bag, and rolls her eyes! And I was the one who made the decision whether or not the company would purchase her USD 3 million goods. Hahaha!

    And yeah, the higher you are in the hierarchy, the more freedom you have, outfits and fashion included. I really love this kind of posts where it's just just fashion pictures, Jean. ^_^

    Visit me:
    LeeAnne, Style N Season

    Posted 9.15.12 Reply
  6. Anonymous wrote:

    I love this post and just want to share some experience regarding owning designer items and where to wear them. I'm a student in my late 20s and my very first designer item was a 3.5k YSL watch with diamonds which I bought when I first entered college. I loved the unique design and wore it everyday. I also loved how no one really knew its true value and just say "nice watch" when they did take notice. I got more comments/questions when I wore MK watch which was only a fraction of the YSL watch so I totally agree that if you don't want to draw attention to the item then wear something that less popular. I also loved the comments about martyr mom. My mom was a martyr mom so she never bought any designer item. So now I buy them for her and encourage her to wear them. Unfortunately she works in a place where people would definitely view it negatively so she rarely get a chance to wear nice designer item. Also I want to thank Jean for inspiring me to purchase a Chanel flap bag. I absolutely love it. Fortunately for me I'm in a field where I can wear whatever designer items I like.

    Posted 9.10.12 Reply
  7. sophié wrote:

    about NOT respecting women with a logo overflow… When one is covered in logos the implication is they have no personal discernment or refined taste, but like to display their perceived wealth. Although that may not be the case nevertheless that is the message they send out. Sometimes the messages we send out are not the ones we think they are. When i see a woman walking down Bond street wearing logos, bling, furs and carrying a birkin – I do not really think 'wow what a lovely woman' and 'how lucky and wealthy she must be to afford a birkin and those furs…' I may think 'wow poor woman . No imagination, no taste, no deportment.'

    Posted 9.10.12 Reply
  8. sophié wrote:

    great Advice – you are the voice of reason. x

    Posted 9.10.12 Reply
  9. Ale wrote:

    Hi, I forgot to comment that the only item where people display logos in my company with no shame is prescription glasses 🙂

    Posted 9.9.12 Reply
  10. Kay wrote:

    The highest-end piece I own is a Coach handbag, lol, and I don't have the money or desire to wear designer clothes/accessories, though I do think they're beautiful, and love your blog! This post reminded me of a (sort of) funny story: I am a junior-level employee in my early 20s, been at my current place of work a couple years. A few months ago, my car (an economy Dodge) was totalled in an accident and I "upgraded" to a mid-size Kia. When my then-boss asked me what my new car was, she replied kind of snottily, "Oh that must be a real downgrade from the Beamer you're used to." I was like, "what??? What's a Beamer?" Well, apparently my boss had seen someone who looked "exactly like me" driving a BMW around our business area. I wonder now if my supposedly driving a really nice car is part of the reason she seemed to dislike me quite a lot.

    Posted 9.9.12 Reply
  11. Hi there! This is a very subjective matter and I can only speak to how I decide personally what is "reasonable" and what can be rationalized. There really is no hard cutoff on what % of take-home salary should "reasonably" be spent on items you covet, rather it depends on your lifestyle, other spending, financial needs, and bigger savings goals (ie. homebuying, school, retirement, wedding…whatever it is). I would suggest not spending the money on coveted wardrobe items unless you are at a point financially where doing so would not affect any of your spending needs and savings goals. I know a lot of young professionals start out and save early-earned income towards designer goods, luxury cars, or other treats, but my advice is to think about bigger savings goals first and make sure a reasonable amount is being contributed to those first.

    Posted 9.8.12 Reply

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